Jimmy Graham: Tight End Steal of the Draft in 2018? (Fantasy Football)
False narratives and recency bias fuel how people view players and often get in the way of finding value in fantasy drafts. We as fantasy players read snippets of articles or hear opinions from analysts in podcasts and take them as gospel without vetting to see if the narrative is correct or just an assumption.
Fantasy owners also tend to be short sided, allowing recent performance to shape an opinion on a player while looking past a long history of production and value. In the case of Jimmy Graham joining Aaron Rodgers in the Green Bay passing game, the conventional narrative is that Rodgers, despite being ranked as the perennial No. 1 fantasy quarterback, has never produced an elite fantasy tight end. Examples of Jermichael Finley never reaching double-digit touchdowns or posting a 1,000 yards season, and Martellus Bennett’s inability to gel in the Packers’ offensive scheme are common examples used to discredit the argument of Graham having a productive 2018.
While there is merit in the argument that Finley never lived up to his potential and there is no doubt Bennett was a bust, it does not necessarily mean that Graham will also flame out. The first factor that favors a big year for Graham is the loss of wide receiver Jordy Nelson, a favorite receiving option for Rodgers who led the league in red zone targets in 2016, the last full season with Rodgers under center. A subpar running game and a hyper-efficient attack in the air were two primary reasons why Rodgers led the league in red zone passes in 2016.
In every year since 2014 when Rodgers has played a full 16-game slate, he has produced two receiving options who finished in the top ten in red zone targets. When you consider the fact that Graham led all players in red zone targets and touchdowns in 2017, it is not out of the question to predict another top 10 ranking in both statistics this season.
Another standard narrative that is circulating the fantasy community is Graham’s age, injury history, and the notion that he is on the downward slope of his career make him too risky of a selection. Age is relative to the position a player plays and can vary depending on the health and work ethic of the individual. In the case of tight ends, only four players in the history of the NFL have reached 1000 yards as a TE after the age of 31, and only six tight ends age 31 or older have reached the double-digit touchdown plateau.
Jimmy Graham happens to be one of those six players to reach 10 touchdowns after turning 31, and he achieved that mark playing for the 14th-ranked Seattle passing offense last year. Now as a member of a team with the league’s best quarterback and a subpar defense that ranked 26th in 2017, Graham might add his name for a second time to the short list of tight ends to have productive seasons past age 31.
The lack of passing volume and the fact that Rodgers has a history of spreading the ball around to numerous receiving options between the 20s will limit Graham’s value in PPR formats, especially when compared to volume tight ends like Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz. However, in standard leagues where touchdowns are king, Graham has a realistic chance of finishing first in tight end TDs for the second consecutive season.
In fantasy, the value of a player is relative to where you can get him in the draft compared to other players at the same position. As of today’s date, Graham is currently going as the tight end eight off the board in the seventh round, behind Delanie Walker, Hunter Henry, and oft-injured Jordan Reed.
Based on his current ADP the market is buying into the narrative that Rodgers cannot produce an elite tight end and Graham is past his prime. I believe both of these narratives are false and Graham will capitalize on a massive vacuum of red zone targets in the Packers passing game and finish as a top-five tight end, with the strong chance of leading the league in receiving touchdowns at the position. As a seventh-round pick, the risk-reward of Graham is well worth the draft pick, and he could be a league-winning asset in 2018.